Tuesday, September 13, 2016

A whale of a good time!

When we first moved to the Pacific Northwest and started chatting with locals, it quickly became clear there are three places all Washingtonians must vacation. It’s just a given that you travel to these places. Because you are close and they are beautiful and it’s your PNWer duty.

Within our first four transplanted years, we managed to cross Alaska and The Oregon Coast off the must-visit list. Gold stars for the new residents! Both places indeed strikingly beautiful and both prompting repeat visits.

For some reason – mostly because we inexplicably tend to explore south and east more than north – it took us over 12 years to finally complete our Washingtonian Initiation Rites by vacationing in the San Juan Islands. Those gold stars were about to get revoked.

Having just returned from a four-day San Juan Island discovery, I am eagerly expecting our Welcome to Washington certificate and Newcomers Kit containing Dutch Bros. coffee coupons, Columbia Sport all-weather gear, and directions to the nearest Subaru dealer. Just in time for the rainy season (aka October-May)!

I have to say, I now understand the residency requirements.

The San Juan Islands are in many ways quintessentially Pacific Northwest. They are rugged and treed and damp. They are beautiful in the grey and dazzling in the sunlight. They require ferry boats to reach and whales and bald eagles are common sights. The residents are friendly and welcoming and earthy. There are yachts and yurts, arts and cannabis, artisan chocolates and locally sourced chickens.

There are four islands on the ferry schedule but really just two that most people visit.

While ferrying about, we met a couple who live on the less popular Lopez Island. They talked about how each island’s locals have their own way of waving to each other while driving. Lopezers raise their pointer finger. If you don’t wave or use the wrong finger, you are obviously a tourist.

We also chatted with Sister Mary Daniel who was shopping on San Juan Island for the retreat center she helps staff on exceptionally quiet Shaw Island. Her bounty included about 25 pounds of galvanized staples and a weed whacker. The image of a nun wielding a weed whacker is one I so wish I could share but I didn’t want to be disrespectful to ask for a photo.  Dang it.

We spent one day exploring San Juan Island – the most popular island in the archipelago. It has the islands' largest town (Friday Harbor, population 2,278) and is close enough to Canada that Verizon wanted to charge me international rates when we were on the west side of the island.

We visited on a Wednesday because we are rebels.

However, we spent most of our time on Orcas Island -- oddly not named for the orca whales who frequent the nearby waters. It has the tallest mountain in the islands (Mount Constitution at 2,398 feet elevation) and is shaped like Gilda Radner’s head from her Saturday Night Live days.

See?  Gilda.  You'll never be able to see an Orcas map again without seeing her.

We brought books and games and wine and tea and coloring books, expecting a quiet, slow, do-nothing escape. I was secretly hoping for a nice rain storm.

We read a little (mostly at night) and brought home some unconsumed beverages. We never played a game and I never broke out the Sharpies. Instead we found ourselves wandering, exploring, eating, riding boats, and searching for whales. Not quite as relaxing as anticipated but still great fun and a wonderful escape to new scenery.

The view didn't suck.

We quite enjoyed Orcas Island; when we return to the San Juans (because we will) we will likely stay there again. It felt more relaxed and meandery than the more touristy and action-packed San Juan Island.

Orcas’s main town (Eastsound) is about half-way around the island from the ferry terminal so it definitely requires a car to visit. We liked the town; it had some interesting local shops, a good variety of restaurants, and was very walkable. By that I mean flat. Because one thing about the San Juans – they are a hilly bunch.

I’m not sure I would have noticed the hills as much were it not for my 4.5 month post-op knee. Although my recovery is going splendidly, hills are still a bit of a challenge for my new ACL. They feel fine in the moment but a couple hours later, my knee has a lot to say about hills.

So I can report that Friday Harbor is a rather steep town right off the boat; Eastsound is delightfully flat right at the water’s edge. In fact, Eastsound is flat enough – right at Gilda’s hair part – that one day we walked all the way through town to the small airport and across Orcas Island to the other side. It was a 4.2 mile day and totally worth the aches for the experience. And bragging rights.

Victory selfie on the other side of the island!

Our last full day on Orcas we decided to go in search of the non-namesakes. We found a well-reviewed whale watching company nearby and set out on a small zippy boat with about 25 other eager whale spotters.

It was a good thing our boat was the fastest in the fleet because we had to motor about 40 miles to outside Victoria, British Columbia (we could see a cruise ship in port) to find a pod of killer whales. But wow, the trek and back-spasmy ocean bumps were so worth it!

The pod was about 7 or 8 whales thick with one baby. The island oceanographers have ways of identifying the local pods so our captain knew exactly which whales we were looking at.

Federal law says boats cannot get within 200 yards of the whales so we kept our legal distance. Nevertheless, we were able to see their white eye patches and hear them breathe. HEAR THEM BREATHE!

The orca pod was very soothing to watch. They swam in arcs in and out of the water with some rhythm and predictability. Typically only four dorsal fins were visible at a time but occasionally we would see six or seven. And then the fluke – seeing the tails flip up dragging ocean water along was soooo much better than anything at SeaWorld. There’s something so much grander and more exhilarating about seeing animals in nature instead of a man-made setting.

It's rather tricky bobbing in a small boat with a camera and
getting any photos that resemble a whale.  I'm quite
pleased with this one out of about 56 attempts.


Pod fins!

But honestly, even more than the orca pod, the most breathtaking part of our whale watching excursion happened towards the beginning.

We were in the waters off of San Juan Island (truly the island you want to be on if you want to see whales from land). Our captain had been radioed that a humpback whale was somewhere nearby. It wasn’t hard to figure out where because about three other boats with similar intel were bobbing around with eyes peeled.

Our boat got very excited when we spotted the water from the blow spout. And then that fluke thing happened. It was so cool!


The captain said that the fluke flip meant the whale was going for a deep dive which could last for up to 30 minutes but typically lasted only about 7-9 minutes. And so we bobbed some more.

When the humpback whale surfaced again, it did something truly magical: it breached. TWICE.

You know that whale-jumping-completely-out-of-the-water-and-doing-a-belly-flop thing that you see in National Geographic documentaries? That thing that whales do on command at SeaWorld but you can’t imagine ever seeing in nature? That whale thing that if I had managed to capture with my camera would have finally earned me a photography blue ribbon at the Fair? Yes, THAT! The humpback whale did THAT! With a curtain of water hanging from its fins and body and a wake that caused our boat to bounce.

It was nothing short of magnificent. I’m still in awe.

So yeah, that was our long put off trip to the San Juan Islands, complete with breaching whales. It’s now hard to figure why we waited so long. Since we’ve done most of the big scouting, I suspect on our next trip our games will get played and the books read and the Sharpies uncapped. It might even rain. And it will be just as perfectly Washington.




Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Bringing smiles one little X at a time

A couple of years ago, I attended a seminar where the speaker explained a concept of Big X and Little X.

The idea was that sometimes we do something for someone else that is really not that big of a deal, not much of an imposition, likely something we would have to be reminded we did. To us, a Little X.

But the impact on the person we do it for is huge. It is memorable. It speaks hope and love and care into their lives. It is a very big deal. To them, a Big X.

An example:

Several years ago, during a very busy, stressful, trying-to-hang-on-without-crying-in-public time, my mom – completely out of the blue – sent me a big box of my favorite candy. Attached to it was a note telling me to enjoy it while watching a movie. I know the exact words because I still have that box (empty, duh) and that note sitting prominently on a shelf above my desk.

It was a tiny Little X for my mom to send me that candy for no reason other than she knew I loved it as a kid. She probably has no memory of mailing it.

But for me it was a great Big X because it was the love and support and just-knowing of a mom at just the right time. It came at a time that I felt like I was taking care of a lot of people and there she was, with a box of Hot Tamales, taking care of me.



I have been thinking a lot about Xs the past few months as our church has been doing a series talking about, thinking about, and trying to practice encouragement.

I’ve been told I am a natural encourager. I suppose that could be true, as it didn’t take my handheld texting machine very long to learn I REALLY like the phrase “WHOOOO HOOOOO!!” Within a few weeks, my smartypants phone had added the phrase to its Autocorrect list. Oh to have a pom-pom emoji to go with it!


Over the past several weeks, I have conceded that it is pretty second nature for me to sprinkle little Xs around, give a high five or a word of praise or a perspective of hope to a friend or family member.

But to a stranger? Nope, not so much.

I’m relatively introverted. Stepping outside my safe little unpeopled box and presume to offer a word – kind or otherwise -- to someone I don’t know is a lot tougher than I wish it were.

But with this recent focus on encouragement – and the encouragement to be intentional about incorporating more of it into my life – I have challenged myself to take my Little Xs outside and boldly speak kindness into the lives of strangers.

It has been a blast.


Blast #1:
One day a few weeks ago, at the end of my sixth or seventh conversation with yet another credit card customer service rep about an issue that was taking far too long to resolve, I told the Citibank lady what I was really thinking.

I told her that of all the reps I had spoken to over the last several weeks, she was the one who tried the hardest to help me. I told her that even though she too wasn’t able to find a solution, I so appreciated that she was sincerely apologetic and shared my frustration. I thanked her for trying so hard and for truly caring.

Stunned silence was followed by words I could hear spoken through an enormous smile and lightly wet eyes.

“You have no idea how much that means to me. You just made my day!”


Blast #2:
Not long after the Fair was over, I started stalking the hysterical Cowgirl that made me and Rob laugh like that uncle in Mary Poppins. Hey, she invited us to stalk her! Sort of.

After talking myself out of it a few times, I finally decided to send Karen a link to the blog I wrote about her show. Yeah, sure, she gets applause and laughter, but words can be encouraging, too, right?

Within just a couple of hours, I got a reply.

“Wow wow wow! Thank you!!!” and “That just made my day!”


Blast #3:
There is an amazing 90-something year old woman at our church who has been running the overhead slides since the days they were actually slides. Apparently she used to sit next to the projector and change out transparencies of song lyrics as everyone sang along.

Nowadays, she and her cane steadfastly climb a set of stairs every Sunday to get to the computer containing the PowerPoint files of lyrics. Yep, Margie runs our PowerPoint and is determined to keep doing so as long as she and her cane can get up those carpeted stairs. She is freaking awesome!

As a part of this focus on encouragement, Margie’s fan club wanted to give her something in thanks and awe of the 40+ years she has been our Multi-Media Maven.

Inspired by some corn dog earrings I have (just go with it), I contacted a woman I’ve never met in West Virginia. I explained the situation, provided a photo snagged off the interwebs, and asked if she would be game for making a very special necklace for a very special lady.

What she came up with – on her first and only attempt – blew my mind. Such talent! And such perfectly delicious non-corn-dog goofiness!


Not long after Margie was presented her Projector Pendant, I took a picture of her wearing it and sent it to the lady in West Virginia. I decided she needed to know and see how much joy and laughter and appreciation her silly little necklace generated.

Within hours I got this reply:

“Thank you so much for sharing that with me! That made my day!”


As I reflect on the handful of heartfelt Little X’s I have recently strewn over strangers…and the almost verbatim “That made my day!” reaction I have received in return…it’s pretty obvious that this encouragement thing rocks. There's something magical about speaking genuinely felt positivity out into the universe.

Definitely with people I already know, but in a somehow more profound, more pronounced, more delighting-in-the-unexpected way with strangers.

And so, because there’s really no point in waiting, I am herby making an August 30th Resolution.

As of today, August 30th, I resolve to stay vigilant about handing out sincere Little Xs to strangers with the hope that at least once per week a stranger says to me, “That made my day!”

And in the process, I'm pretty sure it will make my day, too.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Fair 2016 Recap -- After the Final Peanut Butter Cup

It’s been two full days plus some since my beloved Fair ended.

Life is slowly returning to normal. I’ve done some laundry, made a slight dent in the emails/voicemails/snail mail that arrived and remained ignored during Faircation, and slept. I’ve slept quite a bit. Ahhh.

As I lie here on the couch with an ice pack on my swollen-but-improving knee and sipping a fruit smoothie featuring fresh fruit, Greek yogurt, and pineapple juice, I’m pondering some reflections about Fair 2016.


I’m not supposed to have a job
This year’s Fair was truly and sincerely so much fun. I hadn’t really realized how writing for the newspaper was slowly siphoning away the joy and carefree wonder of My Fair until I ditched my travel laptop and mobile hotspot.

Don’t get me wrong – I had an absolute blast in the beginning of my newspaper gig a few years ago. But it slowly became work as I tried to think like a reporter.  Please note: I am not one.

Instead of looking for angles and stories and keeping track of how many uploads I had done for the day, this year I simply went to the Fair. I didn’t repeatedly consult the schedule, I didn’t have a daily plan, I didn’t have a constant awareness of what time it was, I didn’t take notes.

I stashed my little notebook and pen in my Fair Swag Bag the first day. After three days of Fairing and not putting either to use, they spent the rest of the Fair on my kitchen table. When I think about it now, it should have been a sign that I was not Fairing well when my supplies included a notepad. Seriously, who takes notes at a Fair unless they are being paid?

Not taking notes changed my approach to writing, too. Instead of trying to make sure I noted and captured every moment and activity of The Fair for blogging reference that night, I just let the stuff that impacted me naturally rise to the surface of each day's story.

For instance, we thoroughly enjoyed watching pigs race and dogs jump any number of times but I never really wrote about them. At first I felt like I wasn't being complete, but soon I realized it was totally ok. It finally occurred to me that if I didn’t think to write about something, there really wasn't much to be said about it. To try to document it out of some self-imposed sense of obligation would have been forced and boring. At least for me and probably for you.

Ditching my notepad and simply writing about what I remembered brought back a joy and freedom that I didn’t know I had lost.

Rob commented several times this Fair how much he enjoyed having his wife back. The wife that is wided-eyed and relaxed and kid-like at The Fair. A brother noted that my smile in the endless photos this year was bigger and happier and more natural. Yes, there was mounting exhaustion in my eyes but it was always tempered by joy.

And I had no idea.

I am soooo grateful for the little voice in my heart last year that told me my time with the newspaper was over, and for Rob’s gentle but consistent reinforcement the past several months. And that I finally listened to both.



The sugar helped but not quite enough
Back around Memorial Day, Rob decided to give up drinking soft drinks. It was a pretty monumental decision because there’s really not much else other than wine that he enjoys drinking. And replacing his diet soda habit with wine would have led to a whole other set of issues.

So Rob has been reluctantly learning how to like water. I’m very proud of him that other than one unanticipatedly icky sweet sip of a Sprite several weeks ago, Rob has not given into temptations to return to his old drinking ways.

I gave up drinking soft drinks several years ago, although I do allow myself the indulgence occasionally. And always always always at the Fair. In fact, drinking Coke and root beer during the Fair is one of the many things I look forward to.

But this year, in solidarity and support of Rob’s new water habit, neither of us had any soft drinks while Fairing. What I realized on about the 4th day is this also meant no caffeine while Fairing. I hadn’t realized how critical caffeine was to my Fair experience until it was gone. Oooh, doggies, could we have used some energy boosting! But we both did sleep better when it was finally time for bed. Go figure.



I am pleased with how well my knee did during the Fair. Mostly.
I walked more each day at the Fair than I had in any given day after my ACL surgery in April. Granted, my average of 3.2 miles per day was not all in one stretch, but it was markedly more than the typical one mile I had been walking before.

Can you tell which days we didn't
Fair this year?


I tried to be as smart and as careful as I could be with my Fair knee. I walked slowly, rested often, and I was mindful of the Grandstand stairs and the few hilly spots scattered around the Fairgrounds. I also carried a daily one-time-use instant ice pack. Choosing the optimal icing time was a little tricky; most often it was in the late afternoon. And often with a snack.

Our favorite bench in the
Big Air Conditioned Building


I discovered that the packs from Target are better than the ones from Walgreens. I also learned that although the temporary packs aren’t nearly as good as the reusable one I have at home, they did do a much better job than my first solution:

Strawberry Mango Smasher
Very cold but not quite enough
surface area to make a good ice pack


I was also proud of myself that I kept to my M-W-F schedule of at-home physical therapy exercises. Yes, on those particular Fair days, prior to heading to lunch and 3ish miles of walking, I had already put in about an hour of sweaty knee stretching and strengthening.

Yep, I exercise in Crocs.  Not just Crocs, special Crocs for
people with plantar fasciitis.
#TooOldToBe48

So I was very focused and careful and consistent with my knee care. YAY!

But when I went to my physical therapy appointment on Monday – the first day after the Fair was over – Steve heard my confession, examined my puffy knee, and immediately grabbed the calendar to reschedule me. My knee was swollen too much to make Monday’s appointment useful. BOO!

If I’m honest and giving into my emotions, I will tell you that I’m a little nervous that I did something wrong and permanent and scary to my knee. If I listen to my rational self (also named Rob), I know that I simply worked my knee more than it was used to and of course it would react after that much walking.

It is definitely improving with the two days of rest and ice I’ve given it since Monday. So I am anxiously awaiting a thumbs up from Steve when I see him again tomorrow…hopefully for longer than 10 minutes.



The Fair inspires me in many ways
Somehow, almost every year, something happens at the Fair that prompts an online purchase.

One year there was an exhibit about music that included a display of 8-track tapes. Not long after the Fair, thanks to eBay, this bookcase d├ęcor arrived in the mail:

It reportedly still works.  I have no way of verifying that.


Last year, after attending a “Guess Who” concert – whom I was stunned to discover was not a cover band for The Who – Rob ordered me their Greatest Hits CD. I had no idea I knew so many songs by a band I had never heard of!

This year my Fair-inspired web shopping went a little into overdrive.

I am currently awaiting two new pairs of fair-food-themed earrings for next year, along with a new sign for our kitchen that a vendor was selling at the Fair but in the wrong color. A new self-inflating seat cushion was just shipped from Las Vegas. And yesterday we picked up my BRAND NEW ELECTRIC CANNER that was shipped to a favorite sales-tax-free store in Oregon. Merry Christmas to me!!!

Blackberry jam shall be its inaugural crop




The name for this heady phenomena is obvious but I’m resisting
You know how at Disneyland there are kids – and some adults – who walk around wearing hats that are literally Goofy? And when you first see them they look ridiculous? But then the more people you see wearing the hats, the more they start to look normal? And then you start thinking you might need one yourself?

I am relieved to tell you I never was tempted to acquire one of these:



But man oh man, they were everywhere!

Appropriately spotted in the sheep barn


One day we even saw an entire family wearing matching t-shirts featuring the “smiling pile of poo” emoji (which I learned last year is not actually a happy pile of chocolate frosting).

We decided -- and hoped -- that their last name is Brown


I can’t say I understand this current poo fascination. Other than to wonder if there’s a sudden epidemic of anal-retentiveness. The people who had their poo hats and plushies looked quite proud and very unwilling to give them up.

My favorite poo moment was one day when we were in the carnival area. A couple of grade school boys were running around, chasing each other. One was carrying a poo. I looked at him and then looked at Rob and posed the obvious question:

“Diarrhea?”



He really wasn’t planning it
Rob had an extra dose of fun this year. He started a daily series of statuses on Facebook with the premise that he was kidnapped and taken to the Fair. His first post:

“Day 1: I appear to have survived the transition easily enough, though the hallucination of people eating corn-dogs while driving *into* the fairgrounds was a little disconcerting.”

And by the way, that wasn’t a hallucination.

They both had them


Subsequent posts commented about things like being offered “…a chewy, chocolate, doughy food…” (deep fried Oreo).

His final post – which he thought of on the final day – was pure punny brilliance.

“Day 10: I survived. I made it through the entire fair without suffering a heart attack, an animal bite, a carney bite, or an empty wallet. Quite an adventure.
But now I find myself drawn back to the fairgrounds. While I have a comfy chair, I miss sitting on metal or wood benches watching animals being shown. The air in the house is so clean, yet I now long for the smells of cattle, sheep, goats, and llamas.
I'm afraid I've developed Stock-Home Syndrome.”

If you are not familiar with the psychological condition called Stockholm Syndrome, click here to fully appreciate how hysterical and beautifully master-minded Rob’s pun is.

Good Lord, my husband cracks me up!



I so hope there is more info and blogging to come

As mentioned before…I have mentioned this before, right? I’ve mentioned this?  I have made myself extraordinarily available to Princess Maddie’s mom should there be any schedule conflicts with Fair Court Duties and Mom’s Busy Schedule in the coming months.

You might imagine, then, how thrilled and delighted and hopeful I was when Maddie’s Mom let me take a peek at the tentative schedule for Princessing through next year’s Fair (starts on August 4, 2017 – mark your calendars!)!!!

The schedule is no less than three pages long, jam packed with parades and rodeos and horse shows and community events. Top of the list is Media Day, Shopping Day, and a photo shoot. How fun and Princessy is THAT?!?!

I knew the life of a Fair Court Princess was a busy one but seeing it in spreadsheet form made me more fully appreciate the commitment the girls and their families are making for the next year. I wonder if they knew they were making a three-page commitment?

A quick scan of the spreadsheet suggested a parent is required at about 90% of the appearances. I’m thinking there is a really good chance I might be able to tag along a time or two as Giddy Fair Court Mom In Waiting. And I hope…SO DEEPLY HOPE…I get permission to blog about it. Stay tuned!

SO FREAKING EXCITED!!!



Anyone else remember Larry Groce?
Some very kind people occasionally comment how surprisingly not unattractive the photos are that Rob captures of me eating. And I get it – seeing someone eat is typically not something you want to watch or see pictures of.

I always explain that Rob takes several photos for me to choose from, plus we have quite a bit of practice working together.

Nevertheless, I thought I would end this year’s Fair Blogs with a little video I made of some of the photos I chose not to use.  You’re welcome and I'm sorry.

Thank you all SO MUCH for joining me at The Fair this year! I truly, sincerely, honestly had a blast. Hopefully that was obvious.

Woodhaven Ramblings will now return to whatever topics strike me to ramble about. For about 350 days. And then it will be All Fair All The Time again!

Whoo hoo!

video
Be sure to have your volume on

Monday, August 15, 2016

Fair 2016 – Day 10

I’m sort of stunned that it’s all over.

In one way it seems like months ago that I was opening my Fair Drawer and packing my Fair Swag Bag with Tums and sunscreen and pain meds. But in most other ways, it seems like my favorite 10-day holiday just got here and can’t possibly be over already.

Today was an absolutely wonderful day. It started a bit early and ended late and was packed with so many reasons to smile that my cheeks actually hurt a little (the other ones, too – turns out my self-inflating seat cushion has a small leak so I will be acquiring a new one in the off-season for all my Grandstand needs). I also found myself on the verge of tears a few times, but every time was out of joy and gratitude for 10 days of utter delight and fun.

In the next few days, after some sleep and figuring out what life happened while I was on Faircation, I will be posting one last Fair blog. A recap with some reflections and behind-the-scenes sort of stuff. So stay tuned for that.

But first…because I can’t bear the secret any longer, THIS HAPPENED:

She also got a very prestigious award for showing
kindness, encouragement, diligence, and
confidence during the competition. No surprise there.


Maddie won, Maddie won, Maddie won!!

Yes, my most favorite Fair Court Contestant EVER secured a spot on the 2017 Fair Court! She is officially a Princess!! OMG OMG OMG!!!! I am just beaming!!!

Could our smiles be any bigger?


The logistics
Three girls were chosen today as Princesses. Over the next six months, they will get some training and participate in some holiday parades and get a little exposure and practice for The Big Stuff that kicks into gear next June. During those six months, the girls will be carefully observed. In February there will be a Coronation and the Queen of the Fair Court will be announced. I don’t have to tell you that I WILL BE THERE!

Today’s publicly viewable competition started at 11:00am with speeches, modeling, Q&A, and a fun word-association game to see how the girls think on their feet.

The contestants then took a few hours’ break to change clothes and get their horses ready. The final event was a horse competition in which they rode around an arena simulating parade and public event activities they would encounter as a Princess. Things like calmly walking their horse past people with balloons or umbrellas, making their horse back up and stop, dismounting and remounting, carrying a flag, and my favorite – riding around the arena really fast while doing that warp speed rodeo hand wave thing while also making sure their hat doesn’t fall off.

Laura, Emily, and Maddie


Setting the stage
I arrived at the Blue Gate just minutes before the Fair officially opened at 10:00am. The Fair was just waking up; it was so quiet and peaceful. Vendors were arriving, employees were having breakfast, booths were getting set up, no pan flute music was playing.

I was by myself because Rob had some duties at church; he joined me later. I should mention that it was a pretty big deal for me to skip church today. I only miss it when we are traveling or if I am sick. Despite my love of the Fair, some things do come first.

But today was extra super duper special. I am sure God understands. Besides, without planning it, a number of folks from our church skipped service this morning to support Maddie. We sort of had our own mini-congregation under the Jest in Time Circus Tent. So it was almost like being at church, except with milkshakes and corn dogs and cameras. Can I get a hallelujah?

Maddie definitely had the biggest – or at least loudest – cheering section. We were quite enthusiastic. So much for Quakers being stereotypically quiet.

Maddie was Contestant #4…out of what became four instead of five contestants. On Wednesday the contestant list included a current Princess; she was competing again to see if she could continue a second year. But for some reason – trust me, I really don’t know – she withdrew from the competition a few days ago. She was there today, though, as a current Princess and doing a great job at it.

In all honesty, I was relieved to learn Shaylee withdrew her name even though I was certain she would earn a spot on the Court again.

On Wednesday, as I watched/stalked Maddie and the other contestants, I noticed that sometimes Shaylee had to be a contestant and other times she had to be a current Princess. It looked exhausting.

But more than that, I wondered if it would be disappointing and difficult not to be able to fully participate with your Princess sisters in the final days and duties of your reign because you were busy trying to make it all happen again. I feared Shaylee might be missing out on some of the best parts of the Fair Court experience by competing a second time.

So for whatever reason Shaylee decided to remove her Contestant #5 sash, for her sake I am glad she did it so that she could fully and completely soak in every last bit of being a 2016 Fair Court Princess.

They were a great Fair Court!


The Speeches

All four girls did a fine job being up on stage for 15-20 minutes each. I certainly wouldn’t be able to do it and maintain such composure and unwobbly knees. Especially in cowboy boots.

Anna – Contestant #1 – has a background in theater so she is presumably very comfortable on stage and in front of people. And for the most part, she was today. She did a great job with her bio and her memorized speech…until she had a little brain fart and blanked out. Man, I hate when that happens. At 48, it seems to be happening with more frequency. Gah.

Anna rallied as best she could but she never completely recovered. I felt bad for her. I did admire how she deftly worked in the various sponsor names in the word association game. And she was very endearing and made me laugh when she went off-script and referred to herself as being “derpy.” I plan to incorporate that word into my vocabulary.

Emily was Contestant #2. She immediately had my attention when she shared that her favorite thing about parades is the candy that is thrown to the kids. That’s my favorite thing, too. I often come home with quite a stash. I suspect she was being more of a grown-up, though, and was referring to be the thrower.

I also liked that Emily’s speech shared a personal story from her childhood and she allowed herself to be a little vulnerable in telling it. That took guts and poise and she had both.

Contestant #3 was wearing my favorite colored shirt (lime green) so I liked Laura right away. She was bouncy as she modeled her fabulous shirt and skirt across the stage so I thought she might be a bouncy sort of person. Instead she surprised me by being very linear and somewhat reserved.

She was very prepared but wasn’t particularly spontaneous. She didn’t seem as comfortable as some of the other contestants with the Q&A and word association games. I really appreciated that she talked about being on her school’s robotics team and math being her favorite subject. She was multi-dimensional. I liked that.


And then there was Maddie. Trying very hard to be objective, I noticed she was excited but nervous. She flipped her curly hair a bit – mostly because her hair is rarely not in a ponytail and is never curly. She also absentmindedly played with the tail of her contestant sash because, well, as long as I’ve known her she’s never worn one of those, even to church. So those two things were a little distracting.

BUT Maddie was by far the most natural and authentically herself on stage. She had everyone laughing with her candid answers to the Q&A (she apologized that her least favorite movie is “The Notebook” because she really doesn’t go for all that lovey dovey stuff) and word association (the first word that came to her mind when told “food court” was “AWESOME!” – now you know why I adore Maddie so).

Maddie also was totally unfazed when the music paused awkwardly during her modeling and later when some papers blew around on stage during her speech. She just smiled and kept going like a true pro.

See the papers on the stage?  I think they
belonged to the Marketing Director


The Horsey Show
I know nothing about horses or how to ride them and make them do stuff. So I watch the horse competition purely as your average clueless Fair-goer. I look at the bouncy hair and the pretty horse and the warp speed rodeo wave. These are important to me.

Overall, I thought #3 (Laura) and #4 (Maddie) did the best jobs with their horses. Their horses largely did what the girls wanted them to do and were totally unfazed by the parade simulation. Both girls did great carrying a large flag around the arena and both waved really fast with their hand in front of them as they whizzed past us.

The other contestants struggled a bit with their horses or remembering the pattern they were supposed to ride. I noticed one was sort of slouchy when she was carrying the flag. I have no idea if posture is important for flag carrying but since I cluelessly noticed it, I’m guessing it might be.

I also noticed that one girl did her warp speed hand wavy thing with her hand more out to her side instead of in front of her. Again, that might not be important since I have no idea what I’m talking about but it was something that I wrote down in my little notebook. Yes I take notes. I look more official that way.


The Results
After flowers were bestowed and thank yous were gushed and tears were choked back for the Fair Court that was ending its reign tonight, it was time to find out who our three new Princess are.

Even though I was completely certain that Maddie’s name would be called, I still screamed and shouted and cheered and smiled almost as big as she did when it was confirmed.

That smile!

I truly couldn’t be more excited or proud of her. As the Fine Fair Folks will soon find out, Maddie is fun and goofy and bubbly while at the same time totally unflappable and very discerning and responsible and intentional. Maddie is aware of situations around her and knows how to present herself accordingly.

I have no doubt that come February, Maddie will be our new Fair Court Queen. And honestly, I would be saying that just based on what I saw today. The fact that I know how much more there is behind the fluffy hair, megawatt smile, and stunning white leather dress makes the inevitable that much more obvious.

And yes, I have already made it abundantly clear to Maddie’s mom that I am utterly and eagerly available to fill in as Second Mom if her busy schedule needs some reinforcements. I am at the ready to help out with anything not involving a horse. I’m yearning to learn how to curl hair and am willing to drive to events at wee hours. Yes, unabashedly to get a sneak peek into the Fair Court Princess World. But even more to support and love and cheer on a very special young woman that I am proud to know and call Princess.



Saying good-bye
Beyond the Fair Court competition, today was a heart-and-tummy filling day of just wandering around, chatting with friends, hanging out with the llamas, watching bits and pieces of favorite shows, riding the Ferris wheel one last time, and mostly just saying good-bye to my most favorite time of the year. That dang lump in my throat almost got in my way of eating. Almost.

I also said good-bye to a few friends.

As we left the Fairgrounds for the last time, we stop and chatted with John. He mans the Mt. Hood Territory Tourism booth. We met him a few years ago when somehow we started comparing notes about fairs and fair food. A day at the Fair now is not complete if we haven’t waved to or chatted a bit with John. This year we learned that his most favorite song EVER is “The Sound of Silence” — but only if it is played on the pan flute. Repeatedly. For 10 days straight. Ideally from a neighboring booth.

I also am now officially following “Washington Smashers” on Facebook so I can figure out how to get my fruit beverage fix during the off-season. I so enjoyed getting a chance to meet Stan the Smashers Man this year. I am also very touched by his sincere well-wishes for my continued knee recovery. Hope to see you again soon, Stan!


My final treat of the final day of the Fair was my beloved deep fried Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup from the Deep Fried Heaven Truck (officially called Sweet Cheeks). I hadn’t had one yet; it was time.

As we waited for my delectable, we waved and smiled at Eric inside the truck. He is so sweet and always makes us feel like deep fried friends.

I asked the cashier if the truck happened to sell t-shirts like the ones the employees were wearing. Because it is the perfect shirt to wear to the gym as soon as I’m cleared to return there.

The cashier was pretty sure the shirts weren’t for sale but confirmed it with the owner. Jackie came out of the truck and we started chatting. We had not met before but it wasn’t long before she understood that I am something of a Super Fan of both her products and the Fair. She said shirts might be for sale next year. Then she looked at me for a long pause and asked, “How much longer will you be here tonight?”

Before I knew it, Jackie was offering to walk out to her trailer and grab me a company shirt. A half hour later, this happened.


It is not lost on me that my farewell tour of the Fair and the friends I made there involve food vendors.

I love my life!


STATS:

Walked: 7,833 steps or 3.3 miles. Except for a couple of days, I was freakishly consistent with my Fair mileage this year.

Re-entry animal: Pig…or so we were told. We closed out the Green Gate at 10:20pm

Tums: None?!

Knee Scar Band-Aid:

A little girl in line with us for the Ferris wheel
complimented me on my Band-Aid choice

Earrings:

Not a fun fair food today but carefully chosen.  These
have purple rings -- and purple is the color of the
Fair Court. Also, the purple rings are made from
the same kind of surgical metal that some
rods and screws in my back are made from.
And my back definitely needs to be
represented -- it did very well this Fair
all things considered.  Thank you, Back!



FAIR FOOD FEAST PARADE:


I feel like I ended my feasting on a good note. I revisited some favorites, finally ate a few others, and somehow managed not to overdo things to the point of popping antacids. Whoo hoo!

With Rob’s late arrival, I was left to attempt selfies while eating. Selfies with my regular camera, not my phone, so I couldn’t see what I was doing. Simultaneously eating, keeping my eyes open, and taking a picture was much more challenging than anticipated. Rob is amazing Staff. I missed him.

The Final Parade of 2016:

My breakfast with some of my favorite people. Oh to be
one of them!  Scrambled egg, hash browns, and chocolate
milk.  The egg and browns are doused in ketchup and
Tabasco.  Got this entire meal for $5 at the Lions Booth.


Chocolate milk!  Wow, that stuff is good!
Back to the boring white stuff tomorrow...


Lovely selfie of me eating the scrambled egg.  I took
several shots.  This was unbelievably the best one.


And the hash browns.  So delicate.  Oh, I miss my
photographer!


Raspberry peach milkshake.  First time trying this combo
and I liked it!


My photographer is back!  And I'm *still* working on
the Spree box.  I have about 1/3 of the box left.


My last Smasher of the 2016 Fair.  My new go-to combo
of Strawberry Mango.  I'm all about the customized
combos this year.  Thanks, Stan!


White cheddar kettle popcorn.  So good!  I love the salt
and the light cheese.  I have about 1/3 of this left, too.
Rob helped a little.  He was surprised he liked it.


Frozen strawberry lemonade from the corn on the cob stand.
It almost gave me brain freeze several times but was
otherwise good.  I think I prefer the pink lemonade better;
it's less artificial tasting.  Yes, I know that's sort of a
ridiculous thing to say about anything at the Fair.


The exceptionally messy Mexi-Dog.  Hot dog with salsa,
nacho cheese sauce, sour cream, and jalpenos.
I used a lot of napkins but no fork.  Go me!


A deluxe elephant ear from the Malt Shoppe near the
milkshake barn.  Fried dough with sugar, cinnamon, butter, ice
cream, strawberries, and whipped cream.  Rob and I
planned to share it but we didn't finish it.  It was not made well.
Others around us looked right, so we just got one they should
have tossed.  The line was long and there were noises they
had just run out of strawberries and Rob ate the ice cream and whipped
cream so we decided not to ask for any money back.  Instead we
went to the Deep Fried Heaven Truck for redemption.


The Grand Finale:  deep fried Reese's Peanut Butter Cup
I saved the best for last.
The End.


Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fair 2016 – Day 9

Today was a great day, although it started sort of rough. I had the latest bedtime of the Fair last night, finally settling into sleep somewhere around 3:30am. Thanks to sunlight and a cat, I got about 4 hours of sleep. Awesome.

The story of the ridiculously late night is a longish one that had Rob crying with laughter this morning when I recapped the wee hour adventures he missed out on thanks to earplugs. Unfortunately I wasn’t trying to be funny in my recap, although I do admit…now with some distance…the circumstances were sort of humorous.

Suffice it to say, the adventure included intermittent internet service, botched uploads, and fingers that couldn’t spell well enough for spell check to have a clue how to help.

When I was finally done and uploaded, I was so exhausted I managed to walk into the side of our bed, a wall, and a lamp before finally collapsing onto our couch in the living room because I was afraid our bedroom might kill me.

I wasn’t convinced I was going to have a fun day today with so little sleep and a knee slightly on fire. But after some food and beverage…and slightly cooler temps than yesterday…my Fair worked its magic and turned it into a fantastic day.


I apologize for getting all sappy

Maybe it was the lack of sleep making my emotions a bit raw. Or maybe it’s because I know tomorrow is the last day of My Fair and I’m getting sad. Whatever the reason, I found myself feeling rather sentimental today and being on the verge of happy tears for the most unexpected reasons.

The first tear-prompt was as we approached the arena for the Junior Livestock auction. It’s a very popular annual event where 4H kids sell their animal projects to the highest bidder. As a suburban girl, I still can’t imagine being emotionally strong enough to raise and bond with an animal only to bid it farewell to someone’s freezer. But it’s the reality of livestock and surprisingly not the source of the lump in my throat this afternoon.

Instead, as we got close to the arena we heard the announcer explaining why there were a couple dozen 4H’ers in the ring with one little lamb.

The lamb belonged to a young woman who raised it as her final 4H project; after this year she will be too old to participate in the program. She’s been a 4H’er for years and years and is a beloved and well-established member of the family.

A few days ago, the young woman developed some mysterious health problems that landed her in the hospital. She’s still there and is still undiagnosed.

Her 4H brothers and sisters decided to show their support and love the best way they knew how: they all gathered in the ring to present her lamb for auction.

Seeing all those kids in matching t-shirts standing in for their friend touched my heart. What happened next melted it.

The auctioneer did his rapid-fire sing thing and sold the lamb for a pretty good price. As soon as it was sold, the new owner said he wanted to donate the lamb back so it could be auctioned a second time.

Again the auctioneer found a buyer and again that buyer said they would like to donate the animal back.

The young woman’s lamb was sold three times. The mother was in tears, the announcer was in tears, the auctioneer had to clear his throat, and I was chewing on my straw to fight back the waterworks.

The selflessness of the kids to show a “competitor’s” lamb, and the generosity of the community members who bought it over and over and over again made me want to wrap my arms around the entire arena and give it an awe-filled hug. It was an honor to witness this family support each other in a time of crisis.

This is what a county fair should be about.




Sap #2
It was unpleasantly warm in the grandstands again for today’s Tuff Trucks event. I decided the name is a misnomer as most of the “trucks” are actually Jeep Grand Cherokees of the ‘80s or ‘90s era. Plus one minivan that did better than anyone expected and whose flapping rear door provided extra entertainment.

Although I did a better job today of drinking more water and eating less carbs in the heat, I was still fanning myself and wishing I had remembered to bring a bandanna to delicately dab at the sweat gushing down my face and back.

A grandma in front of us enviously had a motorized fan mister thing that she sprayed her three grandkids with to keep them cool and moderately well behaved. She must have seen the longing in my eyes because several times she smiled and blasted me with her magical Minnie Mouse Mister.

What a simple yet powerful random act of kindness.

Thank you, Tie Dye Grandma!  You rock!


Sap #3
Another happy heart moment at the Tuff Trucks event: By coincidence, the family of the local guy who won the amateur division was sitting a few rows in front of us. To see the father’s pride and the family’s pure joy at the son’s safe and fast run made me want to join in the high-fives. Instead I took a picture.

It was an awesome run.  I would have been cheering anyway.



Sap #4
On our way out for the night, we decided to swing through the Llama Greenway because that’s what we do.

We ended up lingering for at least a half-hour, chatting up unsuspecting fair-goers about llamas and alpacas, answering all the typical questions (no, they won’t spit at you), encouraging people to give Rojo a great big hug, offering to take photos they will love and cherish forever. Or at least they should.

This is what we do when we volunteer with Rojo and his buddies and yet it had been so long since we had done it.

My knee has sort of gotten in the way the past year. I haven’t felt confidently stable enough to handle a large animal and pivot and twist as crowds gather around him. Because they ALWAYS gather. It wasn’t until today that I realized how deeply I miss being with those amazing animals and their humans.

It is such a joy to help bring joy. I’m grateful for tonight’s reminder.

And am now even more committed to doing all that I can to heal this knee properly so I can get back to helping Rojo spread llama llove.

Rojo is a magnet.  Out of his pen for 30 seconds and people
start showing up.  It's all sorts of wonderful.


Sap #5
There’s a certain time in the evening here when the setting sunlight is at an angle that bathes everything in an intense golden light. I call it My Light even though I am very happy to share it.

My Light is different than the evening sun I grew up with much further south. There’s something about living above the 45th parallel that makes both the sunrises and the sunsets different than those around San Francisco.

When My Light is glowing, the many different greens of the trees and grass are more vibrant and the darkening sky looks bluish grey. My Light doesn’t last more than a few minutes but those minutes always fill me with peace and gratitude for living in such a beautiful spot.

Tonight we exited the Green Gate shortly before sunset. As we went in search of our car, I suddenly noticed that My Light was setting over the fairgrounds. I stopped and tried to soak in the moment of two of my favorite things combining. Knowing it was futile, I took a picture anyway, fully aware that the memory is already better.

I wish you could see it in person.



The Final Sap (for today)
On our way home, closer to Woodhaven than the Fairgrounds, we had to slow down to a crawl because this guy was in front of us.

Those round discs fluff the hay.  Why, I don't know.
I'll get to Googling next week.

I don’t know what the official term is for that piece of farming equipment. We just call it The Hay Fluffer. Folks around us have been cutting, fluffing, baling, and selling their hay for about a month so it wasn’t terribly surprising to find this guy sharing the road with us.

But coming home from the Fair…My Fair…on a day filled with so many unexpectedly sweet and emotion-filled moments, following a hay fluffer for a spell was simply perfect.



STATS:

Walked: 6,038 steps or 2.5 miles. I’m very happy with this reduced mileage; it’s more what I have been hoping for the entire Fair. It would have been about a quarter-mile less if we hadn’t lost our car.

Yes, for the first time EVER in our history of Fairing (or anywhere else, actually), Rob and I could not find our car tonight. We both remembered exactly where it was…and we both remembered wrong.

Just as I was starting to vacillate between knowing for sure our car was stolen and wondering how I could summon the Horsey Patrol to help us locate it in the pasture (their most oft-performed duty, I’m told), I spotted Rob slowly driving our car now in search of me.

I have no recollection of us parking in the area he finally found our car. However, we have concluded that where we thought the car was was yesterday’s spot. Tired much? Oy.



Re-entry animal: Rooster on the top of the right hand, stamped with accompanying sound effects. (By the gate guard, not me. Although I now wish I had cock-a-doodle-dood back.)

Tums: Just 1 today about 2 hours after my Italian Grilled Cheese sandwich. I suddenly remembered why I don’t often eat pepperoni. 'Scuse me.

Knee Scar Band-Aid:



Earrings:

Llama!




FAIR FOOD FEAST PARADE:

Today’s slightly cooler temps brought a slightly larger appetite. Thank goodness, cuz time is running out on my free pass to eat all the crappy food I want! I think I’ve had just about all of my favorites now, except for a couple. That’s what tomorrow is for.

Today's Smasher was another combo, this one
recommended by a friend.  The Strawberry-Mango
ROCKED!  I think it's my new favorite.  I will
be seeing Stan the Smashers Man for the last
time tomorrow.  Sad face.


The Italian Grilled Cheese featuring pepperoni, marinara sauce,
and mozzarella on garlic sourdough bread.  While it was very
good, it felt like it needed to be thicker, maybe with some
onions or sausage or ham or something.  And I
re-enjoyed the pepperoni for a few hours.  Lovely.
This was good but not one I'll get again.


Still working on my Spree box!


Watermelon and peach.  I hadn't tried peach before.  It
was very peachy, in the expectedly artificial way.
It wasn't good enough to circle on my flavor score sheet
so it will instead get crossed off. Sure made
for a pretty color combo though.


Dinner:  The Works Baked Potato with lots of stuff I rarely
let myself eat.  Butter, cheese sauce, sausage, sour cream,
bacon, and chives.  OMG.  So many rules broken on one potato!
I finished most of it.  I was disappointed that the sausage tasted
different from prior years.  Usually it's those wonderful fennel sausage
balls you sometimes find on pizza.  Today I didn't
detect any fennel.  Boo.


Dessert before calling it a day:  vanilla ice cream bar dipped
in chocolate and sprinkles while I watched.
Exactly what I was craving.  Mmmm!